Musician and retired music teacher James Joseph Machan passed away on August 22, 2021 at the age of 82. Jim was preceded in death by parents Gertrude (Kitke) and Joseph Machan. He is survived by his beloved wife of 53 years, Suzanne (née Lautz), sons Kevin (Tamara Miles) of Waukesha, WI, Brian (Geraldine McEvoy) of Daytona Beach, FL, and Derek (April) of Waterford, WI, and grandchild Everix. He is further survived by AFS “children” Beldina (née Omondi) Brunker (Kenya), Vicki Cabrera (Chile), Mikko Vasenkari (Finland), Atsuhito Asakura (Japan), Maghzan Auezov (Kazahkstan), and Ataliba (Tom) Beck (Brazil), all of whom held special places in his heart.
Jim completed his Bachelor’s degree (with honors) in Vocal and Instrumental Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, double Master’s degrees (magna cum laude) in Organ Performance and in Church Music from Northwestern University, and did advanced studies at the Royal School of Church Music in England. He later studied Gifted and Talented Educational Development at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Aurora University.
Upon completing his student teaching assignment, Jim was hired in the middle of the year to replace his cooperating teacher as choral director at Nicolet High School. He then was at Kosciusko Junior High School in Milwaukee before he found his lifelong district and home in Waukesha. While employed with the Waukesha Public Schools, Jim served many roles. From 1962-1982, he taught Choral Music, Music Theory, Music History, and voice lessons at Waukesha High School (later becoming Waukesha South High School). He also directed the musicals and the variety show. During the 1969-1973 school years, he directed the orchestra program at South in addition to the choirs. From 1982-1995, Jim taught elementary band, and then transitioned into the Gifted & Talented program. He ended his tenure with Waukesha teaching elementary and middle school strings.
For several years, the local Waukesha radio station would broadcast a live performance of Waukesha (South) High School’s Christmas concert. You can find many of those recordings along with the others made during Jim’s tenure at
After retiring from the Waukesha School District, Jim became an ad hoc faculty member at Carroll University and the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha. He continued to serve Waukesha Public Schools as he coached the Academic Decathlon teams of Waukesha North and Waukesha West as a Fine Arts Coach, where the teams were consistent gold medal winners at state and national competition, earning National Championships in 2002, 2004, and 2005.
During his studies at the Royal School of Church Music, he was one of the organists at Westminster Abbey, playing Saturday Evensong services. His organ improvisations and his vibrant, exciting hymn playing have given Jim a reputation as a superb clinician, a recitalist, and a master of service playing. He brought that education and experience back to the States and served churches and synagogues in the Milwaukee area for over 60 years. During his time at St Luke’s Lutheran Church in Waukesha, Jim helped design the organ, and managed its installation.
Jim continued to share his talents around the world, performing recitals as he traveled. Whether across Canada, into the Yukon, in Mexico, or across Europe, Jim played anywhere from the smallest missions (Queen of the Rosary Chapel at Sinsanawa Mound) to the largest cathedrals (Westminster Abbey in England and The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C.).
In addition to his work as an educator, he was an accomplished music writer and arranger, with many works published, and even more others unpublished as they were created for a specific organization or event. Choir members will all remember the hand-written charts he would create for a particular service or performance. “To Bethlehem” was written for son Kevin’s ninth grade choir, and was judged as one of the top 15 choral publications of 1987. To Bethlehem and his other works are currently published with Fred Bock, distributed by Hal Leonard.
Jim was initiated into the Delta Rho chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia on May 5, 1957, and he was a lifelong member of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), Wisconsin Choral Directors Association (WCDA), American Guild of Organists (AGO) , and Music Educators National Conference (now NAfME). He was a member of Wisconsin Music School Association (WSMA), Hymn Society of America, American Guild of English Handbell Ringers, National Education Association, and an honorary member of Pi Kappa Lambda. Jim was an avid supporter of Sigma Alpha Iota, having been honored as a “Friend of the Arts” in 2010.
In his early days of WSMA, Jim was a member of the committee that helped form the Wisconsin State Honors Project. He continued to serve WSMA and WCDA throughout the years as clinician, adjudicator, section leader, and auditioner. He was the WMSA State Honors Coordinator in 1978-79. In 2004, Jim was the recipient of WCDAs most prestigious award, the Morris Hayes Lifetime Achievement Award for outstanding contributions to choral music in the state of Wisconsin.
Beyond music, the simplest pleasures in life brought great joy to Jim, particularly when it came to his many students from over the years. It was very common for former students to stop by to share their life’s successes, perform a song or two, or simply to chat. Christmas usually brought former students caroling, which was always a highlight during the holiday season.
Jim loved hosting gatherings in his home, always with a meal he would create specifically for the occasion. Many friends who were hunters would share game with Jim to prepare wonderful dishes.Thanksgiving meal preparations happened over several days, and the Machan house was always open and welcome to a houseful of family, friends, former students, new teachers to Waukesha, students from nearby colleges, and often friends of friends who weren’t able to travel to their own home. Nobody ever left the house hungry or without some of the leftovers!
Jim and Sue were actively involved with American Field Service (AFS). In addition to hosting students through AFS, they were Diagnostic Counselors for students hosted in the Midwest, Parenting and Communication Skills Counselors for parents hosting students, Co-Support Coordinators for the Waukesha Area, and held numerous workshops and seminars for liaisons and other diagnostic counselors.
The family would like to especially thank Angel’s Grace Hospice in Oconomowoc and Right At Home for their care. Thank you, also, to the clergy and members of St Matthias Episcopal Church, of which Jim was a member, for their constant love and support.
A memorial service to celebrate Jim's life will be held on Saturday, June 18, 2022, at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, 300 Carroll St. in Waukesha. Preservice music will begin at 12:15 p.m. and the service will begin at 1:00 p.m. For any who wish to be part of the choir, please contact Derek Machan at
for information. Any former colleagues and students are welcome to join in together to “make a joyful noise.” In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family requests contributions to the James Machan Music Scholarship. Donations can be made at any Educators Credit Union, or can be mailed to: James Machan Music Scholarship, ℅ Educators Credit Union, 448 Falcon Ridge Drive, Burlington, WI 53105.